High school students learned about rewarding opportunities in the skilled trades at the kickoff of NKBA’s #NextUp initiative
By Loren Kessell
Las Vegas was coated with snow and abnormally chilly as wind ripped through the city, but a brigade of buses still pulled up to the Las Vegas Convention Center, bringing 150 Clark County school district students to KBIS for a special event.
NKBA kicked off its #NextUp initiative at the show by offering an insightful presentation and tours of the show floor to students to provide them with information about career opportunities within the skilled trades.
The program is part of the association’s continuing effort to expose high school and even middle school students, their parents, educators and guidance counselors to the lucrative and creative career opportunities in design, skilled trades and remodeling. The need for residential designers, skilled laborers and professionals who combine elements of the trades and technology is well-established, and jobs are plentiful — workers to fill these jobs will be needed for years to come.
“Students are really not exposed to a lot of things outside of the scope of their own communities — especially when it comes to different industry sectors,” Craig Brockett, Clark County School District’s work-based learning administrator, said. “We’ve really made an effort to try to expose them to work-based learning experiences with internships and job shadowing, so when we were contacted for this event, it was a perfect match.”
There is currently a severe shortage of skilled trades workers, and the NKBA aims to lessen the gap. NKBA #NextUp will incorporate several initiatives that bring awareness to the dilemma and inspire students to consider the trades as an option.
“The NKBA is committed to providing the next generation of kitchen and bath professionals with knowledge surrounding skilled-labor careers,” said NKBA CEO Bill Darcy. “The event during KBIS was not only the largest we’ve held, but also an ideal venue, allowing students, panelists and tour guides to interact and discuss opportunities. The students were highly engaged and asked a lot of questions about skilled-labor careers, gaining greater insight into how they might want to consider structuring their own paths.”
The day started with a panel discussion that featured a range of industry professionals. Karl Champley, AKBD, and president and owner of KDLA Inc., served as the moderator and a tour guide. Champley is backed by a wealth of experience including being an award-winning builder, appearing on HGTV and winning “Ellen’s Design Challenge.”
“We had to bring the information down to earth for the students so they could understand,” Champley said. “We helped give them a new outlook.”
Students piled into the room and took their seats, and panelists provided personal anecdotes about their challenges and successes within the industry.
Panel members included Jason Artus, partner of Dovetail Sales LLC; Jeff Sweenor, president and CEO of Sweenor Builders Inc.; Jonathan Cheever, U.S. snowboard team member and licensed plumber; Kayleen McCabe, contractor and owner of The McCabe Foundation; Rebekah Zavelof, NKBA Insider and co-founder and director of Design Kitchen Lab & Rebekah Zavelof Interiors; Ryan Herd, NKBA Insider and owner/CEO of 1 Sound Choice LLC; Sheri Gold, CKD, Monogram Design Center national showroom and design manager, and Trevor Newman, owner and operator of Newmanbuilt.
Each person shared compelling accounts that captivated the students. Every story was different, but the overarching message remained the same: skilled trades changed their lives.
Cheever, both a licensed plumber and an American Standard athlete, established a fruitful plumbing career that supported his journey to becoming a U.S. Olympic snowboarder during the 2018 Winter Games in Pyeongchang.
“My plumbing career gives me the financial freedom to support my passion for snowboard cross,” Cheever said. “I’m putting my money toward training and competing around the world — not toward student loans.”
Offering alternative paths to a traditional college education is a key message for skilled trades — not as a way to discourage the choice of going to a four-year school, but as a way of showing future generations there are options for those who may not find it to be a good fit.
Herd started his education at culinary arts school, but his real passion resides in the technology sphere. Herd started his first business — a car audio applications company — when he was 18, after leaving culinary school. He moved on to establish a nationally recognized home-theater company before finally creating his current business, 1 Sound Choice.
“College is great and works for many, but it’s good to acknowledge other opportunities that are fulfilling,” Herd said. “I challenge [students] to open their minds and really look around. There are so many things that will let them put their mark on society, whether in the industry or the trades.”
Themes of self-made success, access to enriching opportunities and financial growth remained prominent during the panel. Students learned that anyone can pursue these careers if they work hard and exude passion.
Following the panel, the students grouped with tour guides, including the panelists and NKBA staff, to walk around the KBIS show floor. The students’ enthusiasm was palpable, as they prepared to see something unlike anything they had seen before.
“Taking the kids on the show floor was amazing,” McCabe said. “I was watching their brains fall out of their heads — they couldn’t believe how big it was!”
McCabe is a general contractor with a refreshingly excited outlook, who started working with tools at age six. She’s an advocate of the skilled trades who regularly travels to speak about their importance, and she’s hosted five seasons of DIY Network’s show “Rescue Renovation.”
“Having students attend these conferences is critical,” McCabe said. “They have no idea about the level of coolness they’re dealing with.”
Each group received a designated itinerary with three booth stops that included discussions about processes required to create product, what goes into creating technology interfaces and even the level of craftsmanship required for booth construction.
“Being with the kids and seeing their reactions was amazing,” Herd said. “Sometimes we, as professionals, are too close to it since we see kitchen and bath tech all the time.”
As the tours progressed, students became more engaged and asked questions. Their guides helped open different conversations to present well-rounded information surrounding the trades.
“The students were blown away by the size of the trade-show floor, and how much opportunity there is with these skilled trades,” Cheever said. “Visiting the booths opened their minds to how much technology is involved, and how it is evolving the trades.”
At the end of the day the panel offered parting advice to the students and fielded questions. Shifted perspectives and newfound energy toward the trades resounded during the commentary.
“The three things our students and I took away from the event was that we all learned something new, it was exciting, and most importantly, we were inspired!” Kari Kramer, Las Vegas Area High School Career Center’s office specialist II, said.
According to a follow-up survey conducted by Clark County School District, 73.2% of students reported they are more interested in construction and design after attending the event.
“This was an amazing opportunity for our students and teachers,” said Kerry Larnerd, Director of Career & Technical Education for Clark County School District. “They couldn’t stop talking about interacting with such highly-regarded industry professionals and were in awe after touring the trade show floor. We hope this experience motivates students to become the next generation of designers, fabricators and builders. We can’t thank NKBA enough for organizing this event and we look forward to growing this partnership!”
But, if there is one important lesson for the students, it is this: “Be a sponge and learn everything you can,” McCabe said. “Even if doesn’t make sense, just absorb it all. Don’t let someone’s opinion of you determine your future path.”